Lawmakers on Capitol Hill blasted the Bush administration for forcing edits in the testimony of a government expert speaking to Congress about the health effects of global warming.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate committee that deals with climate change, said in a letter to President Bush that she was "deeply concerned that important scientific and health information was removed from the ... testimony at the last minute."
Boxer asked that the White House provide her committee, by Monday, copies of all drafts of Gerberding's testimony and any records of comments made on the draft testimony. "The public has a right to know all of the facts about global warming and the threat it poses to their families and communities," she wrote.
Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, also demanded an explanation from the White House's chief science adviser, John Marburger, about the handling of Gerberding's testimony.
"We expect our government researchers and scientists to provide both Congress and the public the full results of their taxpayer-supported work without the filter that those of opposing views might like to impose," Gordon wrote Marburger.
The White House denied that testimony earlier this week to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee by Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was "watered down" and noted that she does not believe she was censored.
As CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports, when Gerberding testified about the health effects of global warming, her testimony was a bit vague. "Weather is inextricably linked to health," she said.
It turned out six pages of specific warnings about diseases that could spread because of global warming were edited out by the White House, as well as a line that the CDC considered this a serious public health concern that remained "largely unaddressed."
When a draft of Gerberding's testimony went to the White House for review, two sections - "Climate Change is a Public Health Concern" and "Climate Change Vulnerability" - were removed, cutting the 12-page document in half. (See excerpts from deleted passages, below.)
Earlier, a CDC official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the review process, told the AP that the original draft "was eviscerated" by "heavy-handed" changes in Washington.
But in a report in The New York Times published today, Gerberding said that news reports and comments about the changes had made "a mountain out of a molehill."
"I said everything I needed to say," she told the Times.
Gerberding said she was free to depart from the six pages of prepared testimony given the committee and did so.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said Gerberding's testimony went through an interagency review "and a number of agencies had some concerns."
She said some reviewers did not believe the draft matched the science as presented in a report on global warming and public health effects by a U.N. panel that has assessed climate change for decades.
The CDC testimony "was not watered down in terms of its science (or) ... in terms of the concerns that climate change raises for public health," Perino said.
But the original draft contained much greater detail on the potential disease and other health effects of climate change than was in either Gerberding's prepared remarks or in her other comments during the hearing.
"The public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed. CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern," the draft says. The phrase was not in the testimony given the committee or in her other remarks at the hearing.
Gerberding referred briefly to a chart, displayed at the hearing, that listed the potential health effects but provided little elaboration. Examples included excessive heat, respiratory problems, more air pollution and possible spread of animal-transmitted and waterborne diseases.
The original text devoted six pages - all deleted - to these items.
Claims by the White House that some sections were removed because they did not, as Perino said, "comport with the science" in the U.N. panel's report were challenged by Boxer's staff. They said an analysis showed some of the deleted references were similar to concerns raised in the U.N. panel's report.
"It appears the White House has denied a Congressional committee access to scientific information about health and global warming," said Dr. Michael McCally, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "This misuse of science and abuse of the legislative process is deplorable."
The CDC is the premier public health and disease tracking and response agency in the federal government. It is part of the Health and Human Resources Department.
The Bush administration has tried to defend itself for months from accusations it has put political pressure on scientists to emphasize the uncertainties of global warming.
A House committee heard testimony this year from climate scientists who complained that the administration often had sought to manage or influence their statements and public appearances.
The White House has said it has only sought to provide a balanced view of the climate issue.
Excerpts Of Edited Passages:
From "Climate Change is a Public Health Concern":
In the United States, climate change is likely to have a significant impact on health, through links with the following outcomes:
- Heat Stress and Direct Thermal Injury ("The United States is expected to see an increase in the severity, duration, and frequency of extreme heat waves. This, coupled with an aging population, increases the likelihood of higher mortality as the elderly are more vulnerable to dying from exposure to excessive heat. Midwestern and northeastern cities are at greatest risk…"),
- Health effects related to extreme weather events ("The health effects of these extreme weather events range from loss of life and acute trauma, to indirect effects such as loss of home, large-scale population displacement, damage to sanitation infrastructure (drinking water and sewage systems), interruption of food production, damage to the health-care infrastructure, and psychological problems such as post traumatic stress disorder."),
- Air pollution-related health effects ("Ozone … may cause permanent lung damage and aggravate chronic lung diseases."),
- Allergic diseases ("[S]ome plants, such as ragweed and poison ivy, grow faster and produce more allergens under conditions of high carbon dioxide and warm weather."),
- Water- and food-borne infectious diseases ("[O]utbreaks of Vibrio bacteria infections following the consumption of seafood and shellfish have been associated with increases in temperatures."),
- Vector-borne and zoonotic diseases ("[C]limate change could aid in the establishment of exotic vector-borne diseases imported into the United States."),
- Altered agricultural production ("[M]ay lead to scarcity of some foods, increase food prices, and threaten access to food for Americans who experience food insecurity."),
- Mental health problems ("[T]he aftermath of severe [weather] events may include post-traumatic stress and related problems, as was seen after Hurricane Katrina …"), and
- Long-term impacts of chronic diseases and other health effects …
From "Climate Change Vulnerability":
Catastrophic weather events such as heat waves and hurricanes are expected to become more frequent, severe, and costly; the U.S. population is anticipated to continue to age and move to vulnerable locations such as coastal areas, increasing exposures to specific risks; and concurrent challenges such as water scarcity in certain regions could limit our resilience. In addition, climate change is likely to alter the current geographic distribution of some vector-borne and zoonotic diseases; some may become more frequent, widespread, and outbreaks could last longer, while others could be reduced in incidence. …
Some populations of Americans are more vulnerable to the health effects of climate change than others. Children are at greater risk of worsening asthma, allergies, and certain infectious diseases, and the elderly are at higher risk for health effects due to heat waves, extreme weather events, and exacerbations of chronic disease. In addition, people of lower socioeconomic status are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups suffer particularly from air pollution as well as inadequate health care access, while athletes and those who work outdoors are more at risk from air pollution, heat, and certain infectious diseases.
Given the differential burden of climate change's health effects on certain populations, public health preparedness for climate change must include vulnerability assessments that identify the most vulnerable populations with the most significant health disparities and anticipate their risks for particular exposures. At the same time, health communication targeting these vulnerable populations must be devised and tested, and early warning systems focused on vulnerable communities should be developed. With adequate notice and a vigorous response, the ill health effects of many exposures from climate change can be dampened.